Professor David J Large, University of Nottingham – Written evidence (NSD0002)


6. How should nature-based solutions be planned and monitored at the national level?


  1. Introduction:

1.1.                      I am a Professor of Geoscience at the University of Nottingham. In conjunction with the Professor Roxane Andersen at University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Nottingham spinout company Terra Motion Ltd (, I have led the development of a new cost-effective method for UK wide monitoring of peatland condition. This work was undertaken in Scotland in conjunction with PeatlandACTION, Nature Scot and Forestry and Land Scotland.


  1. Recommendations:

2.1.                      Approaches similar to the PeatlandACTION system in Scotland should be established across the whole of the UK, with single central bodies responsible for peatland restoration and monitoring in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The bodies should be responsible for distributing funding for both the restoration of peatlands and gathering monitoring evidence of peatland condition.

2.2.                      Funding needs to be available for monitoring of peatland restoration in England and Wales. This can be achieved by requiring that a proportion of restoration cost is earmarked for monitoring, including research into new monitoring techniques.

2.3.                      Implement a UK wide monitoring programme of peatland condition. This programme would provide a quantitative evaluation of restoration and maintenance methods of peatlands and provide underpinning data for natural capital evaluation.


  1. Background:

3.1.                      Peatlands are one of the world’s biggest carbon stores, with UK peatlands holding 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon and cover 10% of the UK’s land area. However, 80% of UK peatland is classed as degraded or damaged and as a result is estimated to be a source of 3.7million tonnes of carbon/year, approx. 4% of the total UK carbon emissions.  While 70% of UK drinking water originates from peat-dominated catchments, degraded peatland costs water companies millions annually in coloration and sediment removal from drinking water supplies. Therefore, methods to restore peatlands are important to the UK for reducing carbon emissions and maintaining the quality of the UK’s drinking water.

3.2.                      Peatland is important because it is easily destroyed and relatively easy to restore to reduce carbon emissions.  Consequently, UK Governments have pledged £650M on peatland restoration in England and £250M in Scotland and the success of this expenditure requires monitoring.

3.3.                      Our method to monitor peatland condition uses surface motion, measured over large areas using an Earth Observation technique known as Interferometric Satellite Radar (InSAR). Using InSAR, we can measure surface motion of peatlands to millimetre accuracy over weeks, months and years. We have developed our method using blanket bog and lowland raised bog in Scotland, and it is currently the only accurate and cost-effective solution for large scale monitoring of peatland condition.

3.4.                      Surface motion of peatland is also known as bog breathing, is a direct response of the peat to changes in water storage, that provides a sensitive measure of the health of the monitored peatland.

3.5.                      The characteristics of this motion (amplitude, timing and long-term trends) reflect the ecology, hydrology and stiffness of the peat, all of which contribute to the peatland’s health.

3.6.                      We have demonstrated the capacity of our methods to


  1. Advantages of using InSAR:

4.1.                      The InSAR technique we have developed uses freely available data from the European Space Agency (ESA) and has several advantages over other satellite, airborne and drone methods that use optical images. The advantages of InSAR are:



  1. Barriers to peatland condition monitoring:

5.1.                      It was not possible to develop this work in England or Wales on account of the lack funding for monitoring and the fragmentation of the bodies managing peatland restoration. 

5.2.                      For example, we approached the Yorkshire Peatland Partnership who manage restoration in the Yorkshire Dales. They were interested but they could only secure funding for the restoration work, not monitoring.

5.3.                      Moors for the Future who manage restoration in the Peak District, were interested but only in the relatively small areas that had undergone restoration, which was not cost effective.  Our method is ideally suited to monitoring large areas at 20 m resolution e.g. all of the peatland in the Peak District and Yorkshire covering multiple landowners and restoration sites.

5.4.                      In England we have presented findings to Natural England, JNCC, DEFRA and BEIS at various meetings but there is no clear mechanism for taking this forward in England.

5.5.                      In Scotland the existence of the Scot Gov funded PeatlandACTION streamlined the process with a single point of contact (Nature Scot), funding for monitoring, development and validation of monitoring methods, and the authority to consider and implement cost effective nationwide coverage.


12 August 2021